SPRINGFIELD — The Bethel-Tate Lady Tigers girls’ basketball team cannot stop making history.
One week after the squad won the school’s first sectional title, the team returned to the court at Springfield High School to battle Miami East with a district championship on the line. Thanks to 25 points from senior Julia Jenike, the squad held off a late rally by the Lady Vikings to emerge victorious, 44-39.
Head coach Dave Fallis said the team didn’t change their strategy too much, even with the matchup.
“We were ready,” Fallis said. “We told the girls, ‘Look, we’re not going to change anything we’ve done. We’ve got this far because of the way we’ve played, let’s focus on what we do best, let’s go do it for 32 minutes and go to the Sweet 16.’”
Jenike scored 10 of her team’s 18 points in the first quarter. Haylee Foster hit a three-point shot as did Allison Parks, giving the Lady Tigers an 18-10 lead at the end of the quarter.
The squad would expand upon that lead in the second quarter. Foster scored five more points and Jenike chipped in a basket and a pair of free-throws. The Bethel-Tate defense shut down Miami East’s offense, and the team dominated on the boards en route to a 29-14 halftime lead.
Fallis said the team couldn’t relax at halftime, noting Miami East was too good a team to lay down in the second half.
“The game is not over,” Fallis said. “We talked strategy, we know how Miami East plays. They’re a very good team, very well coached. We know they were going to make shots.”
In the third quarter, the script flipped. The Lady Tigers could not pull down a rebound and struggled to make shots, exactly like the Lady Vikings did in the second quarter. Jenike hit a pair of three-pointers, but that was the only offensive output in the period by Bethel-Tate. That allowed Miami East to pull to within six points at 35-29.
Free-throws were key in the fourth quarter. the Lady Tigers missed just one foul shot the entire game and went six-of-seven in the final stanza as they tried to protect their lead. On the flip side, Miami East couldn’t buy a bucket at the charity stripe. The squad hit just four of their 11 chances from the free-throw line in the second half, which allowed the Lady Tigers to hold on.
While the Lady Vikings were struggling at the line, the Lady Tigers hit their foul-shots late. Fallis said it wasn’t the first time the team had to convert their chances from the line late.
“Those girls are so clutch, it’s amazing,” Fallis said. “Parks did that in the Badin game. That’s just clutch. They love to be in the moment, I think that’s the difference. They don’t shrink away.”
Miami East made an adjustment on defense in the second half, which limited Bethel-Tate’s offense. Fallis said his team had to just weather the storm and rely upon the large lead they had built.
“They’re a well-coached team,” Fallis said. “They threw out that 1-3-1 and we got confused, and from that point on it was just survival.”
Jenike led all scorers with her 25-point outburst while Foster added 12 and Parks scored seven. Fallis said Jenike, who will play at Florida International, doesn’t need to be told when to take the game over.
“She’s done that for us when we really needed in this tournament,” Fallis said. “We don’t talk to her about it a whole lot. She knows when she has to do it, when she has to flip that switch and deliver. But she’s one of the best kids in this tournament in terms of deferring and getting everyone involved in the game. She’s been a great leader for us…I wish I had her another year.”
Fallis also thanked the school’s fans and students, who travelled well despite the long haul from Bethel to Springfield.
“I think we’re the furthest team away from this gym, travel-distance wise, and they continued to fill the gym,” Fallis said. “It’s just amazing.”
Fallis said he was proud of the team’s accomplishments this season, especially the “team-first” mentality the squad has.
“I can’t tell you how proud of this group I have been,” Fallis said. “They continue to amaze me. They continue to play for each other. They play the game the right way.”
The Lady Tigers will return to Springfield on Wednesday, March 2 at 6:15 p.m. for the regional semifinal match against Marion Pleasant. The Lady Spartans defeated Bishop Ready 52-51 in double-overtime last night to earn their 24th victory on the season.
Reach Garth Shanklin at 937-378-6161 or follow him on Twitter at @GNDShanklin.